Our travel to Palenque from San Cristobal de las Casas was an interesting one. We had become familiar with a local traveler who was making way back towards his town of Tulum and was looking to split gas and supplies along the way. For the most part it was amicable with differences towards the end. None the less our initial trajectory of travel shifted but for the moment to fill in bit on our time in and around Palenque as we traveled through Chiapas.
Traveling From San Cristobal to Palenque
If leaving from San Cristobal de Las Casas you can of course take as we did with a hopeful expectation of correct trajectory, hitchhike of course or take colectivos or ADO.
Colectivo: These can be found on the west side of the ADO bus terminal. The whole ordeal should be with just one transfer and should run around seven hours. Each transfer should cost around 90 pesos so overall an economical ride yet a long sit with the mountains. The first ride will be from San Cris to Ocosingo. Once in Ocosingo there are a few companies that do the trip to Palenque all in proximity to each other. Ask who is doing the haul and can bring you the rest of the leg to Palenque. We didn’t do this way but we did see plenty of colectivos on the road and know of it through research. Also, we are not certain of it being a night-drive option. Ocosingo is a small town with facilities if looking to break up the trip and local ruins.
ADO: ADO runs 6-8 buses a day and does have an overnight bus. Tickets run from 250-500 pesos a person roughly. This is an air-conditioned unit and even with the twists and turns may still be the most comfortable option and for the slightly higher price may still be economical enough to cut the colectivo bit.
Shared Shuttle: Another option with advertisements throughout San Cristobal for tours to Palenque with a couple waterfall stops may be a better option for a little sight-seeing along the way. Depending on the company it runs around 500 pesos per person with duration around 8 hours. This option doesn’t do night runs. For a quote with one of the companies you can reach out here.
Chiapas was a magical land of many elevations, plantations, Zapatista villages, vegetation and fauna. From us leaving the mountainous areas of San Cristobal towards Palenque the views were absolutely breathtaking. The drive itself was a bit rough with steep winding roads, never ending topes or speed bumps and with haste 213km/133mi still took just over five hours. Even so the views were oh, so worth it. The jungle took hold of the north central bit of the state with palms, papayas, mahogany and jackfruit (not native but a somewhat recent product) found just about everywhere. Waterfalls leading to rivers were all available to access for a few pesos. Locals selling coco-water in bags along with snacks every few miles along road shoulder and aggressive drivers throughout adding to our thrilling traverse through. And what we had planned as being a day drive to Palenque and from Palenque towards Merida ended up becoming a weeklong endeavor. In the end our way towards Merida turned into Quintana-Roo and a bit backwards towards our expected course but with traveling comes adjustment and all good things. Check out our map of places here.
Where ever traveling from it wouldn’t hurt to pull out some cash if available as you can go for hours throughout Chiapas without seeing a bank or ATM. If already in Palenque there is a Banorte ATM in proximity of the main square center of the town. There are other banks but we used this which did have a withdrawal fee but seemed secure with security throughout the square.
Where To Stay
So as we did find hostels online, we were traveling with the guy in his camper-van so our situation was a little different. None-the-less we marked the places on the link to our map in “Our Take” paragraph just up from here.
This can be a booked stop through tours and is just a slight bit further than Agua Azul if coming from San Cristobal de las Casas towards Palenque. It is a campground as well as having cabins for rent. I don’t believe there were any parking fees and if able to drive in if camping we paid a group fee of 100 pesos for the car for a night or as we were splitting about $2.50 for both Bia and myself. There is a restaurant as well as snack shop as well.
This a spot just a few kilometers from the Mayan ruins and just outside of the town of Palenque. It is as quiet as can be besides the family of howling monkeys that lives on the residence. Camping was again 100 pesos for the car-full so $2.50 for Bia and I again. This spot also has options for cabins for rent. A pool is available for cooling down and basic showers and bathrooms as well.
Ok, so this place is a definite recommendation with tours companies and colectivos that visit to it. On accommodations, there is a large grass parking area in the center of this tiny town that cars parked overnight for free. We did just that, actually made friends with a Brazilian family traveling who let us stay in there RV but otherwise would have slept in a tent. There is a campground just next to the Cascadas de Roberto Barrios or waterfalls where you could camp on someones property for a minimal fee. Otherwise we couldn’t find too much else close by. Creativity will make this stay happen otherwise more so just a day visit.
What To Eat
If in Palenque, there are plenty of restaurants which we tried a couple that were decent but nothing too over-the-top. For most of our trip through eastern Chiapas we bought fresh foods at local shops. Palenque has quite a few throughout the town. We did start to see Cochinita Pibil, more a Yucatan food in the streets and the cuisine de tortilla, Panuchos. Both are prominent in the Yucatan but found in this area. Panuchos are a fried tortilla with refried beens, chopped lettuce, avocados, pickled onions and a meat if you may.
What To Definitely Do
As Palenque is a smaller city many of the things we did ended up being in proximity to the town itself. Some of these places we had in our “where to stay” category but to go into a little more detail here we go…
This campground slash waterfall area reminds me of Ferngully brought to life. A quick 5-minute walk past the main gate leads you down to a magical 40-meter waterfall that tumbles into 20 square-meter pool. From there a river runs even further into a pristine rain-forest full of life. There is a small entrance fee that is waved if staying at the park. There is a path that tucks behind the waterfall towards a grotto that is I believe 15 pesos for entrance. Also there are a couple trails both taking 30 minutes to an hour to hike to the top of the waterfall as well.
These are the Maya ruins just outside of Palenque. There is an entrance fee to the park of 27 pesos for the day and 57 pesos to enter the actual ruins. Inside there is a mid-sized museum near the entrance with ancient artifacts including centuries old sarcophagus in the center. The ruins wrap around neatly trimmed lawns while mazing through the jungles. During mid-day you’ll brought back to a time where the Maya’s marveled the world with technology far ahead of their time.
A 45-minute tour or drive outside of Palenque will bring you to a small village where the locals primarily their local tongue before Spanish. Near the town entrance is a large center dirt parking area where you’ll pay 10 pesos to park for the day. Another 30 pesos gives you entrance to a set of 5 stepped waterfall areas. The water is a mix between blue and green peacefully rolling from one to the next. With the humidity of the jungle these pools are the absolute best to cool down with.
Our trip through and around Palenque turned into a week with a lot of off-the-grid travel. If taking tours, they will stop for an hour or so in selected areas and the time can be condensed. With opportunity, at least these three spots are a definite must. For us, we would’ve preferably cut up towards Merida for a more situated travel route but ended up cutting across Chiapas towards eastern Quintanna-Roo into the lagoon town of Bacalar. Both ways work well and it turned out still to be a wonderful route with just a bit of backtracking and more than happy to have taken the time we did through the sticky, sweaty jungles of Chiapas.